IN-DEPTH: School-Based Health Centers Further Ostracize Parents From Children's Medical Treatment

There is a simultaneous push to lower the age of consent so minors can obtain medical care without their parents’ knowledge.
IN-DEPTH: School-Based Health Centers Further Ostracize Parents From Children's Medical Treatment
A child receives a dose of the Pfizer BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at the Fairfax County Government Center in Annandale, Va., on Nov. 4, 2021. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Matt McGregor

Policies and legislation passed to marginalize parents from their children’s education and health care are no longer being written off as what some politicians have called a conspiracy theory.

States like Washington and California have passed laws allowing children to hide medical gender-transition procedures from their parents.

Critics of this practice warn that a system of federally-funded school-based health centers (SBHC) built at public schools will make it easier for the state to secretly treat children without parental consent.

An organization advocating for medical sovereignty called Stand for Health Freedom (SHF) has been monitoring the expansion of this federally-funded initiative.

“It’s a risk of parents being further and further withdrawn from their child’s health care,” SHF Associate Director Valerie Borek told The Epoch Times.

Unlike a school nurse who treats minor ailments, the SBHC acts as a family clinic—or a “medical home”—for the child, providing health screenings, dental services, and vision care, according to Ms. Borek.

What the SBHCs can also provide are vaccinations, reproductive counseling such as birth control prescriptions, pregnancy-related care, social-emotional learning (SEL) support, and help with gender transition.

According to SHF, the number of SBHCs in the country have increased from 31 in 1985 to 1,000 in the 1990s, and by 2020, there were 2,500.

There are over 3,000 SBHCs in the country today, with many more on the horizon with the help of the Biden administration’s plan to fund mental health services in schools, using the Uvalde, Texas, school shooting in May 2022 as justification.

Bipartisan Safer Communities Act

This led to the firearm regulation and mental health bill called the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, signed into law in June 2022 “to help meet President Biden’s goal of doubling the number of school-based mental health professionals and tackling the nation’s mental health crisis.”

In addition to expanding background checks for people under 21 purchasing firearms and defunding shooting-sport programs in schools, it released $11 billion for mental health services, which included the expansion of SBHCs.

In October 2022, the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) announced a $280 million grant application program “to increase mental health services.”

“This funding from the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act will help schools raise the bar for student mental health by recruiting, preparing, hiring, and training highly qualified school-based mental health providers, including in underserved communities and for students such as multilingual learners and those from low-income backgrounds and in rural communities, where access to such services can be limited,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona.

According to SHF, Health and Human Services (HHS) was awarded $25 million to states to develop SBHCs.

State Resistance

In Maryland, Ms. Borek worked with Informed Choice Maryland (ICM) to quash two bills, one of which was a proposal to set up a funding infrastructure for SBHCs.

That bill, which died in committee, was met by protests from pediatricians who warned that an SBHC would interrupt the medical relationship they had with their patients, she said.

The second bill, led by Democrat state Sen. Cheryl Kagan, was a proposal to lower the age of consent for vaccinations to 14.

“This is relevant to school-based health centers because they’re working in synergy together with minor-consent laws in the state, and these school-based health centers are more dangerous for parents in the family unit when the minor consent laws are lower,” she said.

ICM brought attention to the multiple ethical problems with the bill that led to its withdrawal.

“That was two wins we had this past year,” Ms. Borek said.

In New Mexico, there is currently an effort called the Referendum Project to repeal several progressive laws, one among those being SB 397: “School-Based Health Centers,” which invites SBHCs into the New Mexico public school system.

“Imagine a young child deciding to change their gender and having the ability to start this process without their parents knowing,” Carla Sonntag—CEO of Better Together New Mexico—told The Epoch Times in a previous article. “The child can go from the classroom down to the on-site school health center without telling their parents. Staff can’t tell the parents, and if they did so, they would be in violation of the law.”

In Maine, a father reported that an SBHC sent his daughter home with a small bag of the antidepressant medication Zoloft without his consent, according to an article by The Maine Wire.

The father was told by the center that staff is legally allowed to give his daughter prescription drugs without informing him.

“You can’t just give my daughter pills in a Ziploc baggie and send them home,” the father told the news outlet.

After he pulled his daughter out of the school for safety concerns, his family was paid a visit by a child protective services agent who investigated his home based on a complaint that the agent ultimately decided was unfounded.

The father acknowledged in the article that he may have signed a consent form of which he was unaware but emphasized that it doesn’t excuse a medical professional from giving his daughter drugs without his knowledge.

“It is a horrible story, but a perfect illustration of the potential dangers with SBHCs,” Ms. Borek said.

'Administrative Burden'

In June 2023, Ms. Borek said that the U.S. Department of Education proposed a rule that would allow sidestep parental consent for Medicaid billing.

“The Department of Education recently put forward a regulation change in the Federal Register where they proposed to take away the legally required informed written consent for billing Medicaid for services, calling it an administrative burden based on their having to ask parents to bill, but if they don’t ask, the parents won’t know what care their child is getting at school,” Ms. Borek said. “This could totally derail the health care plan that the parent is managing outside of the school.”

In response to a request for comment on concerns over the proposed change to remove parental consent, a DOE spokesperson cited the current law which does allow for multiple opportunities for parents to give consent.

However, the spokesperson only addressed the proposed change by stating that it’s about the process for billing Medicaid.

“The [notice of proposed rulemaking] seeks to establish a uniform consent process for parents of children with and without disabilities who may receive school-based services reimbursed by Medicaid,” the spokesperson said.

According to Ms. Borek, this “uniform consent process” is the issue at hand.

“When your kid goes to school, you get a packet of information or electronic documents that you need to sign with various permission slips,” she said. “It’s entirely possible that there could be one form that grants blanket permission for any care and treatment to be received.”

Though the regulation is currently narrow, there’s also technical guidance published by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services that facilitates more access to Medicaid services, which includes mental health treatment, by “reducing the administrative burden for states and schools.”
“So, at this point, we’re witnessing this balance of one agency and one circumstance looking to withdraw the age of consent, while at the same time, we’re seeing an expansion of the program,” she said. “If left unchecked, that’s not going to end well.”

'It's a Moneymaker'

Sloan Rachmuth, an investigative reporter and president of Education First Alliance NC, a parent/teacher-advocacy organization that monitors policies and curricula in the K–12 North Carolina school system, said the SBHCs are a major profit opportunity in North Carolina.

“North Carolina is one of 18 states that allows Medicaid to treat any child who is Medicaid-eligible to bill Medicaid directly,” she said. “What it does is make every school a billing center for health care. For roughly every dollar spent on Medicaid, the state gets back 69 cents plus other financial gifts from the Feds. It’s a moneymaker.”

While on the surface the idea of an SBHC seems like a major convenience for parents, there’s another agenda that has been witnessed on a national scale, she said.

“They can go full on with treating mental health issues, including diagnosing your child with gender dysphoria,” she said.

It’s hard for some parents to grasp because they don’t want to think of a government psychiatrist tampering with their child’s mind, she said.

“It harkens back to the communist days of the USSR and the abuse of psychiatry that took place there,” she said.

For both Ms. Rachmuth and Ms. Borek, it's past time to pay attention.

“This is where we’re at right now, and we have this opportunity as parents and as Americans to watch these centers as they’re put in schools and make sure that our local communities and our lawmakers in our state understand that they need to be regulated in such a way that parents are front and center at the health care of their child, not pushed to the side,” Ms. Borek said.